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Lots of Lessons Wrapped Up in Union’s Hawk Buddy Program

A new class buddy system at Union Elementary is forging the path for new friendships across grade levels. For students of Jackie Bender, Kristin Moore and Jeanne Turek, it is doubling as an opportunity to reinforce math and English language arts (ELA) standards. 

The trio has taken their class buddy assignment a step further, dedicating most of their class meet-ups to practicing a new concept like multiplication or letter writing, for example. 

“I was on board to team up with both teachers because the whole approach reinforces that social skill our gifted kids so desperately need,” said fifth grade teacher Bender of her ELA Plus gifted class. While Turek’s language arts class is her buddy class on paper, she opted to “adopt” Moore’s class too and support the same group of students’ math learning as well. Moore and Turek co-teach, meaning they share students, but specialize in one core subject area. 

“A lot of kids can be introverted and it really encourages them to be a leader,” Bender continued. “They are in their comfort zone as far as the content because they know a lot of the strategies we’re talking about.” 

Bender’s students model certain skills to their third grade “buddies”, the same person each time they meet up twice a month. On their first meeting, they will focus on a math concept and on their second, a language arts standard. So far, Bender’s fifth-graders have shared tricks they’ve discovered for easy multiplication. They’ve assisted with technology strategies to support an animal research project. Most recently, they teamed up to practice letter writing skills in the form of a holiday card project for Union staff. 

Union Principal Kara Kowalk formed the program in direct response to student feedback gathered at the school’s first E+R=O assembly this year. Younger students clearly craved the opportunity to interact with their older peers. 

“Here at Union, we believe in relationships over everything else,” Kowalk said. “Student schedules don’t allow for much flexibility, and oftentimes they see the same students day after day. This program gives our students the opportunity to build confidence in others and to be  a friendly and familiar face to someone new.” 

Kowalk and her administrative team share ideas, but give teachers the freedom to use their buddy time for whatever best fits the needs of their students. So far, they have seen everything from research projects to a friendly game of dodgeball. They also enjoy seeing buddies walk to class together in the morning, share a friendly wave in the hallway or even sign up to read student-led announcements together. 

While reinforcing standards is top of mind for the teaching trio, their students definitely appreciate the camaraderie that comes with their buddy time, too. 

“It’s fun getting to meet other people not in our class and become friends,” said fifth-grader Kiersten Hoff.

“I really like that I can help them. You get to see them learn and that’s really fun,” said fifth-grader Lexi Cox

  • relationship building